Tico Luis Wachong went to the United States in the 1960s to meet cute girls.
Instead, he fell in love with the University of Kansas in the city of Lawrence.
After taking classes there for five years, he bought a house in Kansas and visited between stints on his family’s coffee farm in southern Costa Rica.
The exchange program between the University of Kansas (KU) and the University of Costa Rica (UCR) turned 50 this year, and Wachong joined faculty, students and alumni from both schools for a celebration last weekend.
“It’s the longest partnership with a foreign university and also the most active one,” said Ana Sittenfeld, director of external affairs at the UCR in San Pedro, east of San José.
More than 20 Kansas undergraduates are now studying at UCR, while five UCR professors are getting their Ph.D.s at the University of Kansas. Eight teams of professors from both universities are also collaborating on research, each with $10,000 grants from KU and the Costa Rican-U.S. Foundation (CRUSA).
The research teams are studying indigenous communities in Latin America; archaeological sites in Costa Rica; and epiphytes, plants that grow off branches or tree trunks without any contact with the soil.
KU professor Ronald Aust and UCR professor Allen Quesada designed an online course where students from the two schools worked together via Skype, an Internet phone service.
In addition to faculty and student exchanges, KU is working with five other U.S. universities to support “Century 21,” a plan developed by leading Tico professionals to make Costa Rica a developed nation by 2050 through science and technology.
Representatives from KU and universities in the U.S. states of Michigan, California, Florida and Texas met in San José and Washington, D.C., last year with Century 21’s coordinators to discuss the plan.
A third meeting is scheduled for next month, said Jeffrey Weinberg, assistant to the chancellor at KU.
Now back in San José, Wachong is still brainstorming ways to bring Kansans and Costa Ricans together. He liked the people, the city of Lawrence, and even his jobs as an elevator operator and a janitor at the Hallmark Cards factory.